Ohio Gadfly Daily

On the heels of national research studies that have uncovered troubling findings on the performance of virtual charter schools, a new report provides solid, commonsense policy suggestions aimed at improving online schools and holding them more accountable for results. Three national charter advocacy organizations—NAPCS, NACSA, and 50CAN—united to produce these joint recommendations.  

The paper’s recommendations focus on three key issues: authorizing, student enrollment, and funding. When it comes to authorizers, the authors suggest restricting oversight duties for statewide e-schools to state or regional entities, capping authorizing fees, and creating “virtual-specific goals” to which schools are held accountable. Such goals, which would be part of the authorizer-school contract, could include matters of enrollment, attendance, achievement, truancy, and finances. On enrollment, the authors cite evidence that online education may not be a good fit for every child, leading them to suggest that states study whether to create admissions standards for online schools (in contrast to open enrollment). They also recommend limits to enrollment growth based on performance; a high-performing school would have few, if any, caps on growth, while a low-performer would face strict limits. Finally, the report touches on funding policies, including recommendations to fund online schools based...

  1. The NAPCS/50CAN/NACSA report on the quality of virtual schools across the country made a splashy debut yesterday. It was big news in Ohio for sure, although folks took its messages somewhat differently. Was it an attack? A “call for action”? You decide. Our own Chad Aldis was quoted in all of the following pieces. The PD was first out of the gate with coverage. They were also the only ones (so far) to get a statement in response to the report from Ohio’s largest online school, ECOT. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 6/16/16). No such luck for The Dispatch, although the quote from the PD made it in here too. What? You think reporters don’t talk to each other? (Columbus Dispatch, 6/16/16). True to its nature, Gongwer went to a state legislator to get its second quote. (Gongwer Ohio, 6/16/16)
     
  2. Dayton City Schools has a new supe. She is Rhonda Corr, a veteran administrator who has worked in Cleveland, Chicago, and Indianapolis. The board also named a new treasurer from within district ranks. She is Hiwot Abraha, who has been interim treasurer and assistant treasurer in the district. Interestingly, both appointments were for only one year, although
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Today, a consortium of charter school supporters released a new report containing solid, commonsense policy recommendations aimed at improving virtual schools. This report comes on the heels of national research studies that have documented the dismal performance of virtual schools across the country. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), the 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now (50CAN), and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) intend their “A Call to Action to Improve the Quality of Full-Time Virtual Charter Public Schools” report as a wake-up call.

“When national groups that advocate for and champion charter schools question the impact of virtual charter schools on student achievement, policy makers should take note,” said Chad L. Aldis, Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “If Ohio leaders are serious about improving student outcomes for virtual school students, they’d be wise to consider these recommendations.”

NAPCS, 50CAN, and NACSA summarize the failings in the current online education landscape nationally and propose specific policy recommendations to help states better hold full-time virtual charter schools accountable for student results. The recommendations touch on a wide variety of key areas including authorizer (or “sponsor”) incentives; student enrollment...

  1. After some drops, adds, and sifting, the list of finalists for Dayton City Schools superintendent is down to three. They were introduced to the public late last week and here are brief profiles of them all. Not sure when the board will make the decision. Hopefully soon. (Dayton Daily News, 6/10/16) However, there is some concern that said Dayton school board may run into difficulties with the superintendent hiring processes. Why? Because the district is also looking for an athletic director, but has had to rescind not one but two job offers following concerns that the interview process used was not fair to all applicants. Both times. Don’t forget the board is looking for a treasurer too!  (Dayton Daily News, 6/14/16)
     
  2. Meanwhile, in other “fourth branch of government” news, things are just as out of control as ever in Youngstown. Henry Martyn Robert, who grew up in Ohio and was married in Dayton, is likely spinning in his grave to see his rulebook used to foster what appears to be disorder, confusion, and gridlock like this. (Youngstown Vindicator, 6/15/16)
     
  3. The state board of education meeting this week wrought at least two newsworthy items. First up,
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Thomas J. Lasley II

NOTE: Tom Lasley, executive director of Learn to Earn Dayton and former dean of the School of Education and Health Sciences at the University of Dayton, addressed the Ohio Board of Education in Columbus today. These are his written remarks in full.

Thank you for this opportunity to share thoughts regarding expectations for Ohio’s K-12 students. I believe Ohio must continue to have high quality, demanding achievement assessments and set rigorous passing scores for those assessments.

To get and to keep good jobs, our children need world-class educations. Lowering the bar when our competitors in this country and around the globe are increasing expectations would tremendously disadvantage our young people. We have to be honest with ourselves and with students about what’s required to compete--and to succeed--in a knowledge economy.

Ohio and other states now have a lot of data upon which to base policy and practice decisions. This was not true twenty years ago. But it is true today--as a result...

Ohio’s largest online school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), has recently caught flack for its low graduation rate. A New York Times article, for example, averred, “Publicly funded online schools like ECOT have become the new dropout factories.” It is true that a mere 39 percent of the ECOT’s class of 2014 graduated in four years, meaning that thousands of pupils failed to reach the high school finish line on time. Meanwhile, a recent GradNation report called out the low graduation rates of some alternative, charter, and virtual schools (for a deeper dive into the charter school rates, see Susan Aud Pendergrass’s excellent piece on Flypaper). For some, these statistics are proof positive of educational failure.

We are in no way defending “dropout factories” of any stripe. It’s well known that Ohio’s virtual schools (like those in almost every other state) have struggled mightily to demonstrate an impact on student growth, and we’ve made no secret of our own misgivings about ECOT and many of its peers. But when it comes to graduation rates, how much of the blame belongs to the schools themselves? Is it possible that the way these numbers are calculated yields...

Since President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December, much discussion has centered on changes related to school accountability. Under the new law, a state’s accountability plan must include long-term goals, measures of progress toward those goals, and an explanation of how the state plans to differentiate schools. This revised system would replace the accountability plans that states developed under their still-operational NCLB waivers, and it would take effect during the 2017–18 school year. ESSA’s accountability requirements also involve the dissemination of annual report cards for the state, districts, and schools that contain a variety of accountability indicators and a plethora of data.

NCLB also required school report cards, so the idea itself is nothing new. What’s changed is what the report cards contain. For instance, NCLB required states to include information on state assessment results, the percentage of students not tested, graduation rates, and performance on adequate yearly progress measures. ESSA moves away from adequate yearly progress while mandating four types of indicators: achievement, another academic measure (probably growth for elementary and middle schools and graduation rates for high schools), progress for English language learners, and “other indicators of school quality and...

In April, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report examining recent trends in the racial and socioeconomic composition of America’s public schools. Between the 2000–01 and 2013–14 school years, the study finds, the fraction of U.S. schools that were both high-poverty (75 percent or more eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, or FRPL) and high-minority (75 percent or more African American or Hispanic students) rose from 9 to 16 percent.

While the GAO analysts caution that their analyses “should not be used to make conclusions about the presence or absence of unlawful discrimination,” to headline writers at the Washington Post, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times, the findings suggest “resegregation” in American schools. The Post editorial board declared a “resurgence of resegregation.” But is this a fair interpretation?

There are at least two problems with drawing such a conclusion. The first is that the GAO analysis doesn’t take into account overall demographic trends. During this time period, student demographics were changing in America. As a share of the national student population, Hispanic students increased from 16 percent to 25 percent from 2000 to 2014 (though African American pupils remained virtually unchanged as a fraction...

Ohio’s second-ever school district CEO was chosen at the end of May by the members of the Youngstown City Schools Academic Distress Commission (ADC). He is Krish Mohip, a former teacher and principal and current school administrator in Chicago. He has a track record of turning around low performing schools in the Windy City and make no mistake that that is his charge in Youngstown as well.

Mohip was chosen from a field of nearly three dozen candidates and was introduced to Youngstown stakeholders and the public last week. So far he is enthusiastic, effusive, and inclusive. He told WFMJ-TV that he is thrilled to be in Youngstown and can’t wait to get to work gathering input and working with the ADC, teachers, parents, the elected school board, and the community to create the academic improvement plan that is his required first order of business. In an in-depth interview with Vindy Radio last Friday, Mohip was thoughtful and engaging but clear on his goals: all parents want the best for their children, all children can learn, and it is the schools’ job to make that learning happen. We are encouraged by Mohip’s track record and enthusiasm for...

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to incorporate at least one non-academic indicator—which might include (but isn’t limited to) factors like school climate or safety—into their accountability frameworks. That makes this study published in Educational Researcher rather well-timed. The authors set out to test the theory that reductions in school violence and/or improvements to school climate would lead to improved academic outcomes. Instead, the evidence they discovered suggests the relationship flows in the opposite direction: A school’s improvement in academic performance led to reductions in violence and improved climate—not the other way around.

The study’s authors point to serious gaps in past studies of school climate and safety, many of which illustrated only correlation (not causation) among the variables examined. This motivated them to test the assumption that improved school climate must come first in the chicken-egg scenario. Using six years of student survey results (from 2007–13) from a representative sample of 3,100 California middle and high schools, analysts employed a research design known for its ability to test causality when large-scale experimental designs aren’t possible. (For the curious, this is described as a “cross-lagged panel autoregressive modeling design,” which determines whether variables at different points in...

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